Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Grand, Flannelgraph Canyon

Before shoehorning every item I owned into my '92 Acura Integra and driving 1000 miles to find a new life, I had heard that Colorado Springs was a veritable hotbed of conservative Christian activity. I never imagined, though, that some would be so nutty.

Earlier this week, according to the Gazette, a middle school student was accosted by Christian proselytizers near her school. Evidently, some members of the Cornerstone Baptist Church approached her and asked her to enter a church van with them, ostensibly to share their faith with her. I suppose it's possible that it's all some misunderstanding, and the child blew the scene out of proportion. It's telling, however, that the church declined to comment on the accusation...even to deny it.

I, being the hack journalist-wannabe that I am, decided to poke around Cornerstone Baptist's website. You can learn a lot about the sociopath quotient of a church by noting the first item on the church's statement of faith: The King James Bible. This church is part of the astonishing fraternity of Christian organizations who believe that the King James version of the bible is the ONLY acceptable translation. It's not just that they prefer it over other versions; in their view, all other translations are wrong and useless.

I'm tempted to catalogue all the absurd and mind-numbing beliefs listed on the site, but that would probably only deepen my cynicism. Instead, I'll just say that it's difficult to understand how some people arrive at the conclusions they construct their world around. The underlying issue here goes beyond the disturbing nature of Cornerstone Baptist's recent actions.

The divide between the social left and right is, well, as big as the Grand Canyon. There's a little voice inside me that occasionally cries, "Why must it be so? Can't we stop it?" Then, usually, a bigger voice replies, "No, dummy, we can't." Abortion, gun control, gay marriage, the role of the federal government, bible translation, salvation, end times, beginning times, school prayer, the ten commandments, the supreme court, affirmative action...it goes on. This discourages me.

It discourages me that the gun-toting, pro-life, Left Behind-reading conservative Christian from Texas will never see eye to eye with the gay, pacifist, bleeding heart liberal atheist from Oregon. This, of course, is a truth that transcends time and geography. It will always be this way. People will always be able to sniff out the things that divide them from their fellow humans.

My sense of sadness is somewhat mitigated, though, by the thought of how bad it would be if everyone were the same. Perhaps, upon examining the yawning gulf of difference, one's only recourse is to appreciate the value that those differences bring. After all, one of the most beautiful things about the U.S. constitution is the fact that it depends on the tension of opposing viewpoints for government to function.

I'm reminded of the movie Grand Canyon. The cast of characters in that movie also come up to a great divide. The movie doesn't present a set of answers or a "get along!" message. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find its exact meaning or purpose. At the end of the movie, the ensemble cast takes a road trip to the Grand Canyon, and they, black and white, simply look out over the expanse. What's the message? I don't know. Maybe it's that we can't change the truth so we must deal with it. How do we deal with it? Maybe it means that if someone can look at a fellow citizen, hate everything he stands for, yet is still able to stand in line behind him at the Taco Bell, that someone has achieved something that is unprecedented in history. Too grandiose? Probably. But maybe there's some truth to it anyway.

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